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Many in Chilliwack experience ‘significant human rights challenges’

B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner says there’s been a ‘troubling rise’ in anti-LGBTQ2SAI+ incidents
Cover page for ‘Human rights in Chilliwack,’ released as one of four community briefs from B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner on April 10, 2024. (B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner)

Many people living in Chilliwack are experiencing “significant human rights challenges,” according to B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner.

Chilliwack was one of four B.C. communities profiled in a “community brief” released from the commission April 10, with key Chilliwack concerns listed as: housing, health, discrimination/hate, and employment.

Lack of access to housing came up as a “major rights issue” for Chilliwack in the brief, with rent hikes, renovictions, and very low rental supply all adding to the risk of homelessness.

There was also a “troubling rise” in anti-LGBTQ2SAI+ hate incidents, with gender-diverse and trans youth on the receiving end of “blatant discrimination,” the brief said.

“We are committed to listening and responding to communities, ensuring that people’s experiences with human rights issues are at the centre of our work,” said Kasari Govender, B.C. human rights commissioner, an independent officer of the B.C. legislature.

Similar challenges like housing, and health, are mentioned in all four community briefs, which featured Chetwynd, Cranbook and Terrace, in addition to Chilliwack.

The community briefs were released as part of Govender’s multi-year Baseline project on the state of human rights in B.C.

As a rapidly growing community, Chilliwack has seen residential housing values spiking noticeably starting in 2016. Housing has become “increasingly unaffordable,” to buy and rent in Chilliwack, as the one-pager from the brief said.

“Between 2016 and 2021 the median value of a home in Chilliwack increased by 88 per cent. This far exceeds the province-wide increase of 57 per cent.”

Chilliwack had the highest proportion of homeless people of Indigenous ancestry in the Fraser Valley, at 25 per cent, it said.

Mental health and substance-related services need to be scaled up, as health-related staff shortages were mentioned as a factor.

“People in Chilliwack told us repeatedly that better access to mental health and substance use support is a major human rights priority in Chilliwack,” the report said.

On the employment front locally, migrant workers face housing challenges and substandard conditions, exacerbated by climate issues.

“However the news isn’t all bad,” the commissioner said. The one positive was that there is “critical” human rights work and advocacy being undertaken in Chilliwack, to counter some of the concerns documented in the community brief.

“Many people in Chilliwack - and across B.C. - are coming together to build understanding, support one another, and stand up to hate,” noted the commissioner.

One of the people who took part in the Baseline work from Chilliwack was Teri Westerby, past director of Chilliwack Pride Society.

The Baseline project sought input from key stakeholders to bring attention to “pressing human rights issues” facing 2SLGBTQIA+ community that could be the means to hold leadership “accountable,” down the line, he said.

“These briefs provide an opportunity for everyone to listen to the voices of their marginalized neighbours, so they can understand our experience and learn to stop perpetuating injustice,” said Westerby.

“Equipped with this pivotal research, we now have the means to hold leadership accountable and demand action for inclusivity and equality. I want to express my deepest appreciation to BC’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner for amplifying our voices and tirelessly advocating for meaningful change.”

The input came from focus groups and interviews with community stakeholders, Indigenous leaders, as well as media and other sources to produce the briefs.

“Through conversations with community members and leadership of Stó:lō Nations we heard many examples of critical service provision and advocacy work by community organizations and others to help address these human rights challenges,” Govender said. “Many people living in Chilliwack are working toward a more equitable future for their community. We hope this community brief contributes to those efforts.”

See the Chilliwack community brief:

READ MORE: Baseline project created database of rights research

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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